A Useful, if Neglected, Argument against Mass Immigration

A recent New York Times op-ed piece reminded me that there are three basic streams of arguments against massive and growing migration to the U.S.:

  1. It is hard on the U.S., its environment, and most of its residents. We restrictionists spend 99 percent of our time, understandably, on such themes.
  2. It is hard on the working-class migrants themselves and their children. This is dealt with from time to time, such as the CIS backgrounder on how badly the children of immigrants do in the U.S. and a recent blog of mine on the “train of death,” about the dangerous train that brings illegals up through Mexico from Central America.
  3. And, it is hard on the countries of origin, particularly the ones smaller than India and China; something we rarely discuss.

That third subject was dealt with, splendidly, in an article “How Migration Hurts Poor Countries“. It was written byPaul Collier, a professor at Oxford, and it focused on the harm done to nations of emigration by large-scale international migration.

He is concerned with the brain drain from so many developing nations; the removal of talent from those societies and their economies, as well as the non-presence of potential change agents, people who have experienced the benefits of a working democracy.

Here are three particularly apt quotations from his column:

The migration that research shows is unambiguously beneficial is the kind in which young people travel to democracies like America for higher education and then go home. …

Mr. [Mark] Zuckerberg asked “Why do we kick out the more than 40 percent of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after educating them?” My response: Whatever the reason, it is a highly effective way of helping poor societies.

And, finally, on the need for a short-term admissions policy for refugees:

Post-meltdown, the elites are needed back home. Yet if they have acquired permanent residence they are reluctant to return.

On that last point I had extensive contact with refugees from Afghanistan prior to our invasion of that country in 2001; once we had liberated the country from the Taliban – or seemingly did so – I noticed that few of those refugees returned to their homeland, preferring the comfort (if obscurity) of life in the American suburbs to potential leadership roles back home.

The political problem with Professor Collier’s argument is that it is an abstraction and it would cause some Third World people to be thwarted in their personal desires. Open-doors advocates and their friends in the media do not like to think in those terms. The Afghan woman, for instance, who heads a successful do-good agency in the U.S. is a good example; she might be more helpful to the world in Kabul, but which one of us is going to send her there against her will?

Prevention, of course, is easier than deportation, so the best way to meet the professor’s objectives is to make the college student’s tenure here a strictly temporary one, and to sharply curtail the various governmental devices, such as the Optional Practical Training program for post-graduates (a variation on the basic F-1 visa) and the H-1B program for young professionals. This would encourage the talent to return, and, simultaneously, open jobs for our own young citizens and green card holders.

Perhaps we could encourage the Agency for International Development to buy one-way, homeward-bound airline tickets for those from developing countries with brand-new diplomas. (They would need to agree, in writing, not to seek to return to the States for, say, three to five years.)

That approach, of course, would upset those with vested interests (like Zuckerberg) who gain from the presence of large numbers of young, often ill-paid aliens with U.S. degrees who work for their corporations.

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